by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 5/29/19.
Jesus called His Church to come out from among the restless divisiveness of Jerusalem and be an avenue for God’s remarkable love for neighbor and God. The very words the biblical authors used for God’s love in the Old Testament (chesed) and in the New Testament (agape) described God’s steadfast, committed and pursuant love. This uncommonly potent and persistent love was the love the Church was to reflect.
Here are five principles to focus your church on reflecting God’s love and reaching those who are hurting and longing for security.
1. Not condemnation, but aid.
Shunning and shaming is a tactic that rarely works when people are suffering. Chiding people with statements such as, “You are wrong. You are sinning!” is usually not productive. In fact, Jesus emphasized that conviction of sin is not the church’s job, stating:
If I don’t go away, the Companionwon’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
When he comes:
- He will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
- He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me.
- He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore.
- He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned” (John 16:8-9, italics added for emphasis).
Jesus’ repeated use of the emphatic “He will show the world…” reminded His hearers that despite the tendency of religious people to condemn and shame, conviction was the duty of the Holy Spirit.
However, the human role is to pray and rehabilitate, not persecute. The Church’s task is thus to provide aid with candor and honesty. Such a church becomes not so much an abode of recluse saints, as a community of caregivers.
2. Unfiltered agape love.
To help those ravaged by violence and abuse, the church must be a front of unrelentless and unfiltered love by reflecting the agapelove of the heavenly Father. Cambodian refugee Somaly Mam movingly writes, “I strongly believe that love is the answer and that it can mend even the deepest unseen wounds. Love can heal, love can console, love can strengthen, and yes, love can make change.”
Unfiltered love does not mean turning a blind eye or disregarding sin. Rather unfiltered love means that it is truthful love that is not filtered by contempt, by disapproval, by scorn and/or by oddity. Unfiltered love emerges when caregivers realize that but for the mercy of God they could be in the same predicament and in need of the same consolation.
Also, everyone in a safe-haven church seeks her or his role in caregiving. Everyone seeks to do one’s part in fostering an environment of love and health, where the ill-treated and injured can recover.
3. Take the ill-treated into our daily life (i.e., home).
A helpful scripture that sums up theimportance of a haven is Romans 15:7. Paul, addressing the divided world illustrated in the story that began this chapter, states, “So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory.”
The word the Common English Bible (CEB) translates “welcome” is translated in other versions as “accept” (i.e., NIV). Still, the Greek word carries the welcoming idea better than the latter, indicating “the idea is to take something or someone to oneself, illustrated by inviting someone into your home.”
Therefore, this scripture might be paraphrased as the following.
“In the same way that Christ also welcomed you,” the church “for God’s glory should take the stranger into our life in all the ways that would mirror taking them into our personal residence” (Romans 15:7 paraphrased).
This would mean meeting their daily physical needs and their emotional needs. Today, when so many people have suffered violence striding brazenly and victoriously through their world, it is critical that the Church sees her task as not an intermediary (pointing those in need to others) but as primary caregiver (meeting others’ needs directly).
4. Compassion and assistance for the ill-treated.
As we create safe-havens taking more and more needy people into our faith community, all Christians must grow in their ability to render effective assistance. Our human inclination is to be self-seeking and to pull back from others’ needs. And so, putting first and then meeting the needs of others becomes difficult.
However, to overcome this limitation it is helpful to recall that humans are created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Christians thus should reflect His image in their actions. But, how do we live out God’s image? It becomes easier if we follow theologian Anthony Hoekema’s suggestion that the image of God is best viewed as a verb rather than a noun.
Hoekema states, “We should think of the image of God… not as a noun but as a verb: we no longer image God as we should; we are not being enabled by the Spirit to imageGod more and more adequately; someday we shall image God perfectly.” So, the Church’s task is to imageor modelGod more clearly, through daily welcoming and attending to those ravaged by a heartless world.
5. Standing up for those ill-treated.
Being created in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) also means that all people, regardless of how they feel about their heavenly Creator, are nonetheless created in His image. This requires the Church to hold accountable any person who tramples that image, for such action offends God and should also offend the church. Oscar A. Romero stated:
As holy defender of God’s rights and of his images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images….whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.
Safe-haven churches are thus not only settings for healing, but also for advocacy. They remain connected to the downtrodden and disheartened; standing up for their rights as well as giving them a pathway back to health.
Excerpted from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing 2013)
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